Britain thrashes out EU referendum plans

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British lawmakers were to thrash out Tuesday the terms of a new law that could trigger a referendum on any EU treaty changes, with some eurosceptics insisting the plans do not go far enough.

A significant number of Prime Minister David Cameron's own Conservative MPs are prepared to rebel and vote against the European Union Bill, causing a headache for the coalition government.

They have submitted amendments which they hope will toughen up the bill and give the government no room to wriggle out of the referendum pledge.

David Lidington, the Europe minister, insisted the law would be tight.

"Any future change to EU treaties, however minor, will be subject to a full act of parliament," he told BBC radio.

"Any extension of EU competencies, (such as) a decision like joining the euro, would have by law to go with a referendum. There would be no wriggle-room for the government.

"And we have two clauses which make it clear that parliament has the final say in deciding whether EU law has effect in the UK."

He dismissed the rebels' fears, saying: "The wriggle-room for ministers is narrowed down to the smallest margin possible."

The bill is designed to ensure that any future transfers of powers to Brussels automatically trigger a referendum.

The pledge was a key part of the governing Conservatives' manifesto and was seen by some as a measure that would go down well with the right wing of the party.

However, the rebels -- largely from the right -- fear the plans would in practice enable the government to avoid going to the people.

The bill would enable ministers to avoid a referendum if they judged that the transfer of power was not significant. The government says this is so they are not required to hold referendums on every relatively minor change to legislation.

The bill also includes a "sovereignty clause", confirming the principle that the London parliament has the final say on EU laws which take effect in Britain.

The bill was to be debated Tuesday by lawmakers in the House of Commons in what is known as the committee stage, but it still has to clear a number of parliamentary hurdles before being adopted.

© 2011 AFP

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